It starts before most folks even recognize it. From the porch of their late summer beach front rental, a couple from away watches a flock of tiny sandpipers racing along the waterline picking tiny invertebrates from the wave wash. Though tourists still linger, the shorebirds already have begun their journey south from their high Arctic nesting grounds, along with a dozen other species.

Verdant fields of tall grass suggest an opportunity for one more haying, but a closer look reveals each stem poking up from a base of blades bears a seed-laden head. The grass has stopped growing and is now ready to spill its seed to support next year’s crop.

The animals know it. Wild turkeys, which once feasted largely on green blades and leaves of grass and forbs, now reap the abundance of grasshoppers, crickets and other insects, an important source of protein for the nearly grown poults. And soon they’ll seek out ripening raspberries, blackberries and other soft mast.

Animals, like this white-tailed deer, know when winter is approaching. In late summer they begin to shift their diet toward the higher-calorie foods they’ll need to survive the winter. John Ewing

Deer, which have been grazing largely on herbaceous greenery, mostly for its high protein, also begin changing their diet. The days are still long and warm, but the diminishing daylight triggers an urge to target foods with a higher caloric content, carbohydrates and fat they can start storing away for impending winter.

A glancing blow from a late summer hurricane may drop unripe apples to the ground that quickly will be gobbled up by myriad forest mammals. Soon the first frosts will drop more ripened fruit to the ground.

Gazing from the window of a waterfront restaurant, a diner hardly notices six blue-winged teal cupping their wings and settling into the wild rice beds to fill their bellies before continuing south. They’ll be long gone before the first guns of autumn fire. Meanwhile, out on the ocean, eiders are rafting up in ever-increasing numbers. Some will remain, others will also move south.

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Though the days are hot and muggy, and the air still thick with black flies and mosquitoes, black bears begin moving more as their diet also shifts from mostly green plants to increasingly more mast. First it’s the blueberries, raspberries, poke berries and black cherries, which they reach by bending, and sometimes breaking the wiry branches. Then will come beachnuts and acorns, if they’re available. The more successful bears already will wear a healthy layer of fat by Labor Day.

Up in the north woods, moose with now fully formed headgear begin thrashing the alders and willows as they shed their velvet covering to reveal a set of regal, palmate antlers. The first frost will settle in over the lakes and ponds killing off aquatic vegetation these largest members of the deer family have fed on all summer, prompting them to shift their diet and location to concentrations of dying maple leaves and woody browse.

You may not recognize it but summer is yielding to fall, slowly at first. But the pace will quicken, as will that of all wild creatures as they prepare to endure, escape or sleep off the winter. Food will become increasingly scarcer and of greater importance. The season of harvest is upon us.

Bob Humphrey is a freelance writer and registered Maine guide who lives in Pownal. He can be reached at: [email protected]


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